Saturday, January 8, 2011

Thanksgiving Menu

Well, clearly, at the beginning of fall, I was all a-fluster with culinary inspiration which I happily shared with you back in October. Though I cooked up a storm in November and December, I didn't seem to find the time to take pictures or write about it, and I'm not thinking I'm going to find much time in the coming months to do so either, so I'd like to share my Thanksgiving menu before I am completely submerged by my evil economics class this semester.

I was delighted to stay home this Thanksgiving and get to cook.  This all sort of happened at the last minute, but I rustled up a nice meal for me, my mom, a friend, and her mom. It was extra special because my friend is from India and her mom was visiting at the time and I got to cook her first American Thanksgiving meal, and I love Thanksgiving! Once you get past its questionable origins, you are left with a day of celebrating harvest, friends, family, and gratitude around a table filled with delicious food. How can you beat that!?

So here is the menu:

  • Apple, Leek, and Butternut Squash Gratin
    • I have now made this several times and it is a true crowd favorite! Super easy, less the peeling and slicing of the squash and apples, the sherry and leeks provide a superb backdrop for the sweet and savory apples and squash. You can use any type of hearty winter squash or pumpkin.
  • Kale & Olive Oil Mashed potatoes
    • OMG good. I made mine with buttermilk, and I used both red and green kale. Heidi is right that the kale will stain the potatoes, so if you are making it for a fancy dinner, be sure to blend in the kale just before serving for the best appearance. (It will, however, still taste great reheated later...)
  • Rich Brown Gravy
    • Mom likes this gravy even better than most turkey gravies. I have never once, in my many years of making this recipe, had it cook as fast as the directions say, and I also often add like a tablespoon of cornstarch (be sure to blend smooth with a little water before adding it, or it will lump up in the gravy) to help thicken it a bit. It is delicious with sauteed mushrooms blended in as well. 
  • Scrumptious Green Beans
  • Mattar Pullau (Aromatic Indian rice dish w/peas) (friends)
  • Pumpkin Pie (mom)
  • Apple Oat Bars
  • Kheer (Indian rice pudding) (friends)

One of the things I wanted to make, but ended up scratching once I realized that I had enough food for a small army to feed a dinner party of four, was Roasted Vegetable Ragoût w/Creamy Polenta. Since I had bought all the ingredients already, I made it the following weekend and it was deelish!

I intend, in the near future, to put up a page with some resources for vegetarian cooking--whether you're just interested in expanding your cooking horizons, looking to reduce the amount of meat you eat, or worried about what to cook up for one of your twig and berry eating friend, I have some links that I think will help you think a little differently about vegetarian cuisine, particularly if you have little experience with that style of cooking and think it is all twigs and tofu and "weird ingredients." :-D

Until then, however, I hope you enjoy some of these recipes! If you give something a try, leave me a comment below and let me know how it goes! Bon appetit!

(And, as always, if you find a broken link, please also let me know!)

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Why is this place called Rough Branch?

Rough Branch is a reference to Wendell Berry's "mad farmer" poems. Berry is an agrarian populist poet, and advocate for sustainable agricultural practices. I don't agree with every position he takes, but his reverence for the beauty and balance of the natural world, for the preciousness of the life that runs through it (including our own), and of the community that sustains both the land and each other, speaks to my heart.

Over the past few years, I have sunk myself into the soil in my back yard, and into the community of neighbors that surrounds it, and it has begun to restore me. My garden is not just a plot of dirt providing vegetables for the salad bowl, it is an act of love, a place of profundity and awe. If you knew about the ecosystem that lives in but one gram of good earth, you would be humbled, literally, to the ground.

Berry's poems are passionate calls to live--deeply, profoundly, fearlessly. To step out of narrow-minded egotism, to secede "[f]rom the union of self-gratification and self-annihilation, [to] secede into care for one another, and for the good gifts of Heaven and Earth."

And so I have made my own nation small enough to walk across. I have named the small corner of the earth I steward Rough Branch. I have declared myself free of ignorant love, and I secede...

From the union of power and money,
from the union of power and secrecy,
from the union of government and art,
from the union of science and money,
from the union of ambition and ignorance,
from the union of genius and war,
from the union of outer space and inner vacuity,
the Mad Farmer walks quietly away.

There is only one of him, but he goes.
He returns to the small country he calls home,
his own nation small enough to walk across.
(From "The Mad Farmer, Flying the Flag of Rough Branch, Secedes from the Union")
The Mad Farmer challenges us to reconnect, to resurrect our land, our communities, and our souls.
So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion -- put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
(From "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front")
All quotes from Wendell Berry.